Ramblings & ephemera

Kurt Vonnegut on using our talents

From David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, & Richard Rhodes’s interview of Kurt Vonnegut in “The Art of Fiction No. 64” (The Paris Review: Spring 1977, No. 69): I bawled [my daughter] out one time for not doing more with the talents she had. She replied that having talent doesn’t carry with it the obligation […]

Woody Allen on immortality

From Michiko Kakutani’s interview of Woody Allen in “The Art of Humor No. 1” (The Paris Review: Fall 1995, No. 136): As I’ve said many times, rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I would rather live on in my apartment.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall”

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall” (1880) To a young child Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds […]

Jeff Bezos on the differences between gifts and choices

From Jeff Bezos’s “We are What We Choose: Remarks by Jeff Bezos, as delivered to the Class of 2010 Baccalaureate” (Princeton University: 30 May 2010): What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given […]

There, on the Darkened Deathbed by John Masefield

This is pretty much what I think happens when we die, and unfortunately, what happens eventually after we die. There, on the darkened deathbed, dies the brain That flared three several times in seventy years; It cannot lift the silly hand again, Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears. And muffled mourners put […]

Looking at others’ lives for clues to what might have been

From Tim Kreider’s “The Referendum” (The New York Times: 17 September 2009): The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start […]

How to tell if someone is a good writer

Image by Esther_G via Flickr From Josh Olson’s “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” (The Village Voice: 9 September 2009): It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you’re dealing with someone who can’t.

David Foster Wallace on being a tourist

From David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” (Gourmet: ): As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal […]

Famous “Laws” of Business & Technology

These come from a variety of sources; just Google the law to find out more about it. Parkinson’s Law “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Source: Cyril Northcote Parkinson in The Economist (1955) The Peter Principle “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” […]

What dogs give us

photo credit: Cia de Foto From Gene Weingarten’s “Murphy’s Law” (The Washington Post: 3 May 2009): [My dog] Murphy has a good life, which is the least we humans can do for a dog, in return for what they give us, which is access to the sort of innocence and trust and absence of guile […]

Van Gogh on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): Van Gogh in Arles wrote this about death: Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots […]

Roger Ebert on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): What I expect will most probably happen [when I die] is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps […]

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade“: I work all day, and get half drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when […]

To solve a problem, you first have to figure out the problem

From Russell L. Ackoff & Daniel Greenberg’s Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track (2008): A classic story illustrates very well the potential cost of placing a problem in a disciplinary box. It involves a multistoried office building in New York. Occupants began complaining about the poor elevator service provided in the […]

Scott-words #17

“You’ve been hoist by your own retard.”

Denise-ism #37

Denise & I are in the car, talking about her friend Scott E., when her cell phone rings. It’s Scott E.! Denise: “Scott! We were just talking about you! Your ears must have been ringing!”

People being rescued run from their rescuers

From Les Jones’s email in Bruce Schneier’s “Crypto-Gram” (15 August 2005): Avoiding rescuers is a common reaction in people who have been lost in the woods. See Dwight McCarter’s book, “Lost,” an account of search and rescue operations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In one chapter McCarter tells the story of two backpackers […]

Graveyard shifts and torpedo coffins

From Atul Gawande’s “Final Cut: Medical arrogance and the decline of the autopsy” (The New Yorker: 19 March 2001): … in the nineteenth century … [some doctors] waited until burial and then robbed the graves, either personally or through accomplices, an activity that continued into the twentieth century. To deter such autopsies, some families would […]

Earliest recorded autopsy

From Atul Gawande’s “Final Cut: Medical arrogance and the decline of the autopsy” (The New Yorker: 19 March 2001): The Roman physician Antistius performed one of the earliest forensic examinations on record, in 44 B.C., on Julius Caesar, documenting twenty-three stab wounds, including a final, fatal stab to the chest.

The Ellsberg Paradox: People prefer definites over ambiguity

From Nicholas Lemann’s “Paper Tiger” (The New Yorker: 4 November 2002): Ellsberg devoted a good portion of his life to decision theory, and made quite a significant contribution for somebody so young. People are still publishing comments on his best-known idea, the so-called “Ellsberg paradox.” The paradox arises from a series of games involving colored […]